There are plenty of reasons to visit Heidelberg. On paper it seems to have it all, a riverside location, lovely old buildings, schnitzel, and even a ruined castle looming over the city and five little Christmas Markets every December.
So it was an easy decision to choose this place to celebrate Pauline’s birthday on our road trip.
After a longer than expected day of driving, where our GPS guided us from France, through Belgium and Luxembourg before eventually into Germany, we finally arrived at our accommodation a few kilometres from Heidelberg. It was getting dark, even though the clock said it was only mid to late afternoon and so we decided to eat locally and hit the town early the next morning.
The local area turned out to be a quaint little suburb full of character and even housing its own small “castle” ruin, which was now used to host weekly markets. We took a short tram ride and entered the city.
We began our exploration at the newer end of Main Street and headed toward the Old Town. The Main Street is reputedly the longest pedestrian-only shopping street in Germany and features all of the big retail names, but we didn’t come to shop, we were here for the Christmas Markets, the beautiful Old Town, and the once majestic Castle on the hill.
The one shop we couldn’t walk past was the Lindt chocolate store. Packed to the rafters with every shape and flavour available from the Belgian master chocolatiers, it seemed wrong not to stop and sample the wares. Another quick stop to grab a sweet breakfast and then back to business.
On the way into town on the tram we noticed the beautiful bridge that crossed the river to the city gates and decided that was to be our next point of call.
The view toward the city from the bridge gave us a stunning introduction to Old Heidelberg, not even the rain could dampen our enthusiasm to explore further. Although I could have done with a good rain jacket.
The view across the other side of the river wasn’t bad either, presenting a stark contrast with only a handful of buildings dotting the rolling hills. The statues along the bridge only added to the atmosphere and sense of bygone days.
The castle lies at the far end of the pedestrian street. We were excited to climb the hill to the ruins but the going was slow. Everywhere you turned another amazing building or scenic view would make you stop to try to take it all in.
A word of warning here, the climb to the castle is steep, and the rain can make it quite slippery just to add to the challenge. There is a funicular railway for those who prefer to tread an easier path. Once you arrive there are a number of spectacular viewpoints to survey the city, river, and beyond.
But the real hero of Heidelberg is obviously the Castle. I recommend taking a tour through the interior of the remaining section of the castle as we found it interesting and informative. Helping to give you a sense of life back in the glory days.
Tales of the owners and other crazy characters all played their part in the tumultuous history of Schloss Heidelberg. Like the little person who was in control of the world’s largest wine barrel and died from poisoning days after his first taste of plain water (or so the legend goes)
In 1764 the castle was struck by lightning, the fire spread quickly and the castle was abandoned due to the extensive damage. The most remarkable occurrence was that the armory tower, a heavily fortified tower at the rear of the castle and a building that had proved impenetrable to attackers since its construction, was destroyed by nature.
A direct lightning strike blew through the wooden roof and ignited the stores of gunpowder inside. The ridiculously thick walls were no match for the explosions and the power of nature is now apparent for all to see.
As the sun went down (we still struggled with a 4:30 sunset) we made our way back down the hill for dinner and our first experience with the famous German Christmas Markets. If you have never had the chance to experience them before then I highly recommend you add it to your bucket list.
The smells will be the first thing you notice. German sausage of many varieties sizzle away, mushrooms and potatoes are offered as supporting characters, and the Gluhwein stalls are packed with locals and tourists alike partaking in this uniquely European Christmas beverage which is an interesting mix of hot red wine, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Although no two stalls seem to use the same recipe.
Have you experienced a German Christmas Market? Which one and what was your highlight?